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These Political Jokes Shook the House During Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Mark Twain Prize Ceremony

Hollywood stars and comedians didn't pull their punches.
Photograph by Tracey Salazar for the Kennedy Center.

Veteran comedian and Washington native Julia Louis-Dreyfus received the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize for Humor Sunday. A-list celebs like Bryan Cranston, Stephen Colbert, Lisa Kudrow, and Tina Fey came to the Kennedy Center Concert Hall to pay homage. Others joined virtually. But, unsurprisingly, none held back on dishing out jokes at either the expense of the audience—which was made up of many establishment types—or of the Trump administration. Here are some of the highlights of  jokes that elicited heavy laughs and a few head shakes from the crowd:

Stephen Colbert

“Every year the Mark Twain Prize comes with two things: a beautiful bust of Samuel Clemens, and, as with any honor at the Kennedy Center, one Kennedy of your choice. I’d go with that Congressman Joe Kennedy, he’s one spicy little ginger. You Washington people, you’re used to politics. Let me tell you, there are some terrible people in show business, who recently switched to politics.  It’s no secret that I love Veep. Not the actual one, he’s, uh, good for him. Is he here tonight? Julia, is he over there with you? No, oh, that’s right, because he’s afraid to be alone with a woman. When I watch her [on Veep], I actually feel sorry for an elected official. That’s not my typical response.”

Tina Fey

“Born in New York City, Julia grew up near here in Bethesda, Maryland, where she attended the Holton-Arms School for girls. Anyone who knows Julia knows that she cherished her high school days boofing out in the quad and playing Devil’s Triangle with her girlfriends. The classic American childhood for a girl.”

Seth Herzog

“DC is very split these days. You guys are like a divorced couple, you even speak in divorced-couple terms. ‘What happened with the Dems?’ ‘They took the house.’ ‘They took the house?!’ ‘How ‘bout the Senate?’ ‘We’re gonna split that equally. The Dems get it summers and every other weekend.’  …

You all had to come through the Hall of Nations to come here. I just heard, three of the nations got kicked out already tonight. Their visas expired. …

Bernie [Sanders] is back on the campaign trail. I heard, like Beto O’Rourke, he tried to skateboard into a rally. If you want, you can send get-well cards to Georgetown University Hospital. I do love Bernie…Bernie to me is like Rockville, Maryland, rolled up into one guy.”

Kumail Nanjiani

The Big Sick actor performed a “Twain Talk,” a topical riff on a TED Talk.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus Kennedy Center
Photograph by Brittany Shepherd.

“I have had the great honor of working alongside Julia Louis-Dreyfus twice in my career, and I can tell you the experience is everything you wanted it to be: inspiring, hilarious, absolutely terrifying…. She flourishes both as a team player and someone who can take charge. She uses her voice to fight for the vulnerable, she’s a brilliant leader and motivator, she’s, dare I say, presidential. I know you said you don’t want to run for office, but I really think you should reconsider.”

Nanjiani then listed several reasons why Louis-Dreyfus should run in 2020:

1) “She Has Experience Already”

“The first reason is obvious. In Veep, Julia plays a VP who decides to run for President, becomes President when the current President resigns. Runs in an election which results in an electoral tie, wins the popular vote, loses the election, then decides to run for President again, which is actually much simpler than our current political situation.”

2) “Washington Outsider”

“People don’t want insiders. Insiders are out. Outsiders are in! She will deplete the marsh. She will diminish the pond. She will empty the quagmire. She will siphon off the mud…no offense to almost everyone here.”

3) “She’s Diplomatic.”

“She’s diplomatic. That used to be part of it. You are able to say the funny mean thing, but also prep me without hurting my feelings too much. Because that is what being a president is all about: screwing people over without having them feel bad about it.”

Julia Louis-Dreyfus Kennedy Center
Photograph by Dan Swartz.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Louis-Dreyfus gave an emotional, insightful, and funny acceptance speech. She devoted a certain section all about DC-area life, delivered with a punch:

“I grew up here, so receiving this honor from the Kennedy Center is particularly special. When I was a kid, Kennedy Center just seemed like a fancy sounding name. But now that I think about it, Kennedy Center could easily be another euphemism for Devil’s Triangle. The famous drinking game. I attended Holton-Arms, a girl’s school in the Washington area, that has been in the news lately. Back in fourth grade, I was in a Holton-Arms production of a very serious play called Serendipity. You know, it’s funny with those Holton girls. I remember every detail of that play. I would swear to it under penalty of perjury, and yet I don’t remember who drove me to the show, or who drove me home. Or if Squee or Tobin were there or if Bart put it on his weird wall calendar. Maybe it never happened. This, by the way, this is totally true and not a kind of subtle attack on our newest Supreme Court justice–for God’s sake, the man has suffered enough!”

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Brittany Shepherd joined Washingtonian as a staff writer in June 2018. She previously covered the White House for Independent Journal Review. She currently lives in Navy Yard.